The last time I featured Bill Baker’s incredible work, he had just returned from Mexico where he had gone once more, to visit and photograph the Tarahumara, the tribe he’s become known for portraying.
He’s spoken to me often about his passion for capturing and documenting disappearing indigenous tribes and their traditional ways, as well as his own love of travel and adventure to remote places.
When we spoke after that trip, he told me about his upcoming visit to Peru with his teenage son, to join thousands of pilgrims gathered in the Sinakara Valley, in the Peruvian Andes, near Cuzco, to celebrate the annual Snow Star Festival. I thought his memories of that trip would make for an interesting story to accompany a few the pieces he’s made since. He also kindly included a photograph which he took during the Fiesta, to share here.
1) You went to this incredible Festival in the Andes with your son, can you tell us a little about what that meant to you, sharing that experience together?
Well I have heard about how difficult it is to get to this remote valley and that it was a bit dangerous, firstly because the trail getting there, is miles along a cliff with a drop thousands of feet down, and secondly because of the freezing temperatures at night. To boot, the altitude at the base of the mountain is approximately 16,000 ft, so altitude sickness was a serious consideration. When in Cuzco I spoke with many locals about attending this festival and they said “it’s nothing to fool with, it’s dangerous and you better be prepared.”
They also told me that ” every year people die.”
My son’s name is Bryson, well there’s a small village called Maluyani and it’s in the Ocangate district of Peru about 200 mile south of Cuzco. Well Bryson and I left that Village of Maluyani on horse back through the high Andes on at times, very narrow paths and trails. About eight miles and five hours walk to the valley where there would be thousands of Peruvian natives with their tents. At night the temperature would plummet to 10 degrees but by day it would be around 60. I wasn’t sure If my 13-year-old son could withstand roughing it for three days and nights with this high altitude and freezing temperatures.
He enjoyed it very much and helped me photograph the native dances during the day, and also made a good friend while there. I was glad to see that he liked it as this was a “trial time” to see if he will go on future adventures with his Dad, so next year we will be going to the “Pushkar Camel Fair” in India.This time it’s tents in the hot desert.
2) The Festival itself is ancient and mysterious, does it still seem so or has the outside world stripped it of its magic?
No. Mostly because this festival (Qoylloriti) doesn’t attract much tourism due to the altitude and danger factor. By the way, ten people died during this Fiesta – two froze to death and eight fell from cliffs.
3) What was your biggest takeaway from this event and how will it manifest in the art you make going forward?
The biggest take away is that my son has the adventurous spirit like me, and I’m very glad to know he’s up for good challenging adventures in the future. Creatively, I have new material (photos) and these are not the typical market places and other assets I usually get, these are Peruvian Natives come together from all over to a single place, to do their ceremonial dances in their native garb, so I’ve captured a lot of color and movement in this body of work.
Bill Baker is a multi-award winning artist, known for his pastel paintings. He shows exclusively in Taos with the Michael McCormick Gallery. For more about the artist and his work, please visit the gallery website linked below this post.
The McCormick Gallery currently has a new show up by Michael Archuleta.
Photograph (top of page) by Bill Baker.
All images thanks to the Michael McCormick Gallery